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How to Enhance Your Backcountry Cell Signal

A vehicle-mounted cell booster adds a margin of safety for overlanding.

Aug 6, 2020
As the sport of overlanding and backcountry exploration grows, so does the want for people to build vehicles capable of getting further out there and away from the crowds. However, the further you go, the less likely you are to have cell service. While professional adventurers may stack the deck with ham radios or satellite communicators, the average person may not want to invest in radio training and licensing, or yet another monthly subscription.
So, the question we asked ourselves on our build was what options existed to maximize the usefulness of our cell phone, and it seemed that a signal booster was the answer. Signal boosters work by amplifying a weak cellular signal to reduce dropped calls and improve connections. We have used portable versions in the past, but this time we were looking for a system that we could hard-wire into our Wrangler JL and one that didn't require a massive antenna or a ground plane. Preferably, we wanted something that came with a stealthy antenna that gave and a compact brain for mounting flexibility.
During our research, we came across SureCall, maker of signal boosters for everything from cars and RVs to homes, offices, and even boats. After perusing the company's product line, we settled on the Fusion2Go 3.0 Fleet model. This booster comes with a no-ground-plane fixed antenna, coax cable, the unit itself, an interior patch antenna, and a 12-volt hardwire power supply to make it a permanent installation in your vehicle.
Photo 2/10   |   The SureCall Fusion2Go 3.0 Fleet package features a rugged -in NMO low-profile antenna and a 12-volt hardwiring power cord. Originally intended for law enforcement, fleet drivers, and workers at the limit of cell range who need a fixed antenna solution, we thought it would be the perfect solution for our needs.
The Fusion2Go 3.0 Fleet signal booster supports all of the major carriers, including AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile, on 5G, 4G LTE, and 3G networks, and it can support up to five cell phones at the same time. The brain has an automatic gain function that seamlessly adjusts the gain and power for the best connectivity assist possible. As long as there is a weak but usable signal available, the SureCall system will improve your cell experience whether you are trying to communicate via text, voice, or data. SureCall says their 2XP technology gives twice the uplink transmission power, making the Fusion2Go 3.0 Fleet the best permanently mounted booster for maintaining cell signal at the fringes of cell tower networks and beyond.
Installation is simple, and the results are noticeable. Because of the way most cell phone bars work, don't expect to turn on the booster and see two extra signal bars pop up. Instead, you will experience a difference in the quality of your connection. For example, in the city, in a notorious part of town with a weak cell signal, the booster was the difference between being able to load a webpage and not being able to. We also made a phone call in this same spot, and the person on the other end's voice was choppy and distorted. During the call we turned the booster on, and within less than a minute our call was crystal clear. We took a number of measurements and saw an average signal improvement of 3 to 5 decibels and faster upload and download speeds.
Photo 3/10   |   We began our install by trying to find a good place to install the NMO antenna. We decided to use one of our accessory bolts on the cowl, utilizing a modified Topsy Products stainless steel fender mount.
For our next test, we headed into the Southern California desert to a favorite camping spot that has a reliable but weaker signal. From this location there is only one cell tower that is line-of-sight. We can load pages, text, and talk here, but sometimes it takes a little time for a message to go through. With the cell booster turned on, data was lightning fast, and we saw an average signal improvement of around 5 to 10 dB. We thought that was a solid result, considering our antenna placement might be a bit compromised by being mounted lower than what is considered ideal on our Jeep.
One last anecdote worth motioning was a test we conducted in a heavily congested area. Despite the strong signal bars on our phone, we couldn't get any data to load. Once again, we turned on the cell booster, and within a minute our phone was usable again.
So far, we are impressed with the performance and are looking forward to doing additional testing in more remote locations. And because the SureCall Fusion2Go 3.0 uses high-quality components that are assembled and tested in the U.S. and backed by SureCall's three-year warranty, a 60-day money back guarantee, and a lifetime of U.S.-based technical support, we're pretty sure this is going to be one mod that we'll be able to rely on for years to come. For more information, check out www.surecall.com and follow our install below.
Photo 4/10   |   We had to trim the cowl to get the fit just right, but after the installation the antenna is almost unnoticeable.
Photo 5/10   |   Inside, we mounted the directional patch antenna to the sport bar over the passenger seat, which allowed us to get a boosted signal to all occupants when on the move. SureCall recommends installing the patch antenna within 2 to 3 feet of any cell phones that will be using the system.
Photo 6/10   |   Next we had to find a suitable location for the booster brain. We liked the idea of putting it under the passenger seat, but we wanted it to be solidly mounted. To solve our problem, we bought an UpDownAir underseat compressor bracket and modified it to mount our brain. Now it is completely out of the way in a protected location.
Photo 7/10   |   Next, we ran the power wire to the under-dash factory auxiliary switch wiring bundle to tie into our unused aux 4 switch. Now, at just the push of a button, our booster is ready to go anytime.
Photo 8/10   |   Finally, we connected the antenna wires and the power wire to the brain, turned it on, and were in business with the welcomed sign of all green LEDs. The unit will handle multiple simultaneous cellular connections and doesn't require any passwords, making it a convenient option for anyone in your party.
Photo 9/10   |   We've found that one of our favorite use cases is to turn the booster on when camping so our mobile hotspot can pull its signal from the booster. This allows the signal to be beamed outside of the vehicle, and everyone can take advantage of the booster. This also saves on battery life because your phone has a strong signal to pull from and isn't working to stay connected to a weak one.
Photo 10/10   |   We love how low profile the antenna is. Check out this photo and see just how well it blends into the lines of our Jeep Wrangler.